Seventeen and a half years ago, a Navy SEAL died during a training mission. Though he was a Richmond native, I was so wrapped in my own life having just given birth to our second child that I missed the story completely. My life continued on in its post-partum daze unaware of how many lives were turned completely upside down by this event.
This beloved soldier also had a newborn son at home, along with his beautiful wife. Additionally, his loved ones included a twin and another brother, devoted parents, a loyal company of fellow VMI cadets, and the entire Naval Special Warfare community. That tragic December day affects them all still.
Thanks to our sons, this man has also impacted our lives. From the time our boys turned one, I have watched his son become a happy and curious toddler, an eager student, a very competitive athlete, a natural leader, a loving and devoted son, and a loyal friend. From all accounts, the boy is very much like his father, and I am grateful that he has remained my son’s friend though they no longer live in the same town.
Well after this defining moment of her life, the wife and I became friends and confidants. With the help of the VMI and extended military community who built a cocoon of support, friendship and love around them, she had learned to navigate through widowhood and figured out how to raise her son without his father. When her life began to take on the routine that children can bring, school, carpools and team travel trips brought us together.
Over time, she painted the picture of her husband and their life for me though I could already see much of it in her son. Her first husband had set quite a high bar for anyone, but somehow through grace, she fell in love with another Navy SEAL. Brave, kind, smart and handsome, he too honors the spirit of her first husband and the father of the boy who is now like his own son.
When she remarried, my friend re-entered the military life that involves cross-country moves, months of deployments, sleepless nights and hours of fear when news breaks that a soldier has died. When death touches her husband’s command or local military community, my friend springs into action knowing better than most how to help the family left behind. She grieves for them yet shows them by her actions how to graciously survive the ultimate sacrifice.
When my friend asked me along with many others to join her in the Richmond leg of the Carry the Load National Relay walk for military families, I naturally said “yes”. This event has been created as an effort to get Americans rethinking the true purpose of Memorial Day and honor all who have fallen in service to us, whether veterans, citizens or volunteers. It provides a symbolic way to help lighten the load of all who currently serve our country. As my friend describes it,
Carry The Load is a national relay that will travel over 2000 miles to honor families of our nation’s fallen heroes, as well as veterans, active duty service members, law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families. The relay starts in West Point, NY on April 30th, and ends in Dallas, TX over Memorial Day weekend. An American flag will be carried the entire way, being passed from team to team at each leg. Proceeds from Carry The Load will benefit three organizations that support military families . . . Snowball Express (www.snowballexpress.org), TAPS (www.taps.org) and Team Red, White and Blue (www.teamrwb.org).
One of the Richmond legs of this relay takes place May 8th starting at Broad Street and Westmoreland Avenue and proceeding much of the way along beautiful Monument Avenue to Broad and 9th Streets starting at 2:00 p.m. If you would like to walk with our group (leg 105) or on another leg either in Richmond or anywhere from New York to Texas, you can go here to register. If you cannot walk but would like to make a donation, you can do so here.
I am proud to don my walking shoes for this unique event and look forward to joining my friend in honor of her first husband and in thanksgiving for my brother-in-law who has spent much of his adult life in the Navy. Why not team up for one of the legs? If not, we hope that you will consider supporting the work of the three benefit organizations and the military families whom they serve.